Monday, September 22, 2008

A networker's delight


ONE of the major problems with technology documentation is that the writers appear to sing oodles of praise over applications which don’t quite work out their way. From time to time you will be plagued with lines of code that look okay in print but refuse to compile, books that promise to make you a master in a particular field or application but won’t chalk out its limitations, and the most important areas apparently getting such less notice in volumes that you wonder whether the authors actually knew what the thing was intended for. The situation gets particularly critical for specialized fields where you are forced to buy multiple titles and download tons of web pages to gather information that queerly remains unbound in a single dependable edition.

Sufi Faruq Ibne Abubakar’s ‘ISP Setup Manual’ aims to particularly address the issue. A well-known local tech guru, his book is subtitled ‘(A) Step by step guide for ISP and corporate network’, and easily qualifies as a first-hand guide to implementing Linux and networking.

The manual, or ‘black book’ as Sufi calls it (who intends to bring out ‘red’ and ‘blue’ books for intermediate and advanced users in future) is divided into ten sections. The sections are meant to be read sequentially while further relevant information, including documentation, software (and even pictures of the hardware) come bundled with the free CD, which is a wealth of information in itself.

The book itself starts off with the amateur user in view who is eager to move on to sophisticated training in networking. Everything is clarified from the very start and you even come across occasional jokes and smileys when you’re reading, which definitely keeps your journey alive. A book called ‘ISP Setup Manual’ and weighing over 400 pages could always be expected to attract readers with a genuine professional interest or a geekish strain; nevertheless the language is easy to follow, and the format maintained is consistent and simple. But what’s probably most significant about the book is that all the issues and discourses in it relate specifically to the Bangladeshi context, which makes it an indispensable reference.

Indeed, all possible supplementary sources are cited throughout, including the relevant hyperlinks relating to every single piece of software and hardware to the current norms in the business and even contacts of local experts whom you can turn to for suggestions.

There were a number of things I liked about the black book. First of all, this is probably one of those very few titles that actually convey the message throughout that yes, everything shall work fine. And they do. It’s this true down-to-earth expertise that triggers your eagerness and confidence as a reader.

Again, the content management and structurization is excellent. Sufi knows exactly where to draw line and before you know it you’ve moved on to the next chapter. The sheer amount of support provided is also nothing short of amazing: there’s the CD, the hyperlinks and contacts, the list of hardware vendors and means of procurement (including eBay!) – and what’s more, you can register at the publisher’s website for feedback and solutions.

Apart from all that, you can’t help but admire the author’s penchant for aesthetics. The book looks beautiful in its black cover which actually features a scene from a Prachyanat play. All the section and chapter illustrations are vivid and attractive as well.

Of the negatives, I didn’t like the fonts that were used. TNR and Courier are too commonplace and unqualified for serious publication, and I feel such printing etiquette played a major role in making pages appear brimful and lame which were otherwise an uncomplicated and interesting read. I’m not much of a fan of Sufi’s grammar either, which often drops an article here and there and often highlights terms unnecessarily.

For his second edition of the black book, I’d strongly advise him to look into these issues. I’d also suggest the first few chapters to be extended with a view to providing some more breathing space for interested beginners who aren’t adept in Linux but would like to go through the whole contents of the book. The glossary could actually cover all the terms and key topics mentioned throughout, and appending a current price list of all the tools used at the end of the book could also go a long way.

All in all Sufi’s black book is a highly standard publication and recommendable source of information for anybody with an academic or professional background in computers and networking. If you deem yourself a seasoned techie who’s taken a different path, well, I had long forgotten which organization in Bangladesh is for what in communication, and what DVB is for, and how to protect radio towers from lightning. Having all that come back in a simple, easy-going readthrough was a pleasant experience.

About the Author

bored_product_guy / Author & Editor

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